The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow David Gonzalez Chavez.

It’s difficult to determine what my “local community” means in the context of such a polarised and sectarian place as Belfast. The divide that exists between Protestants and Catholics encompasses far more than simply religion, involving differing hobbies, music, dance, political beliefs, and much more. As such, there are very few things which come to mind that I’d truly say are shared by all members of the community which I serve; to talk about Irish ceilidhs or traditional music would only speak to the cultural practices of Catholics, and to talk about drumming and marchers would do so to those of the Protestants.

Photo taken of one of the many Peace Walls that remain in the city, serving as a physical manifestation of the divide between Catholics and Protestants.

Some of the activities which certainly are cross-community are going to pubs, complaining about the English, and my favorite, watching absolutely class reality shows like “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!” (which I’ll refer to simply as “I’m A Celebrity”) and “Love Island.” I’ve truly never witnessed such a powerful cultural phenomenon anywhere, as when these two shows were on it felt like the entire country stopped to tune in.

If you’re not familiar with these shows, here’s a brief description. “I’m A Celebrity” is a reality TV show which takes a host of D-list celebrities (with the notable exception of Caitlyn Jenner) and puts them in a remote location this time somewhere in Australia—and forces them to complete truly horrific trials in order to remain a part of the slowing shrinking cast. These trials include dumping heaps of rotting animal guts, cockroaches, and other lovely things onto them while they’re performing menial tasks. For your sake, I’ve omitted any photos of such acts. The other show, “Love Island,” takes a group of men and women into a villa (this time somewhere in South Africa) where they’re forced to interact with each other to hopefully find love—whatever that may mean in such a scenario. The show is rife with drama, plot twists, not-so-subtle misogyny, and clearly staged events.

The starting cast of Love Island, in their typical attire for the show. (Source)

If I’m not painting a great picture of either of the shows, it’s because they truly are not great. In fact, I’d say that they’re “stankin” as one might say in Belfast. Despite this, I also religiously watched both shows and immersed myself into the brief yet astounding cultural wave that they brought with them. Everywhere I went I’d find someone talking about one of the shows, giving their opinion as to who one character should date or questioning if the guts thrown on a contestant were real. As much as I hated watching “I’m A Celebrity” given my aversion to anything grotesque, I felt that I couldn’t look away as I’d be missing out on the most important event in the country. Even as Brexit limped its way into being, it seemed most people simply wanted to talk about what they saw the night before on the TV.

These two shows taught me that despite how divided my community might be, there’s always something that can unite them other than just drinking. They give me hope that despite all of the division in Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole, there is always hope that people from both sides will recognize their similarities and come together.